Even as a backup, Manziel drawing attention entering preseason opener
It will be only the opening exhibition game, and it likely will happen after the starting players already have exited. But this is Johnny Manziel. So the curiosity factor still will be ratcheted up tonight in Detroit when the rookie quarterback makes his pro football debut, preseason style, for the Cleveland Browns.
It could provide the first hint at Manziel’s ability – or inability – to succeed in the NFL. And perhaps just as interestingly, it could offer the first glimpse of what the Browns and their first-year offensive coordinator, Kyle Shanahan, plan to do to attempt to get the best out of Manziel early in his NFL career.
Shanahan and his father, Mike, constructed the offensive system that helped quarterback Robert Griffin III become the NFL’s offensive rookie of the year with the Washington Redskins in 2012. It also was the offensive system that led to criticism that Griffin was running with the ball too often and putting his chances of having a long and prosperous NFL career at risk.
Veteran Redskins players said this week they’re unsure whether Kyle Shanahan will take a similar approach with Manziel as a rookie.
“Honestly I don’t know,” fullback Darrel Young said at the Redskins’ training camp in Richmond, Va. “I don’t know what their plan is. I don’t know if they’re running the same offense. I just know Kyle is a hell of a coach. I know he’ll put his team in the best situation.”
Tight end Niles Paul expressed similar sentiments, saying: “Kyle is a great offensive coordinator. He knows how to use his quarterback’s strengths to his advantage. So I think we’ll see a lot of similarities. But Johnny Manziel and Robert Griffin are, in my opinion, two different quarterbacks.”
Paul said his observations of Manziel, a Heisman Trophy winner while at Texas A&M, as a college player were that Manziel’s improvisations were aimed at buying time to make throws rather than gaining yards regularly as a runner.
“He moves around, but he’s not as fast,” Paul said of the comparison to Griffin. “He can’t do the things that Robert does. But he does create a lot of opportunities for his wide receivers. You saw that was evident in college when he was just letting those … receivers go up and get it.”
Manziel quickly has established himself as one of the sport’s most captivating and polarizing figures. He was the center of attention when he dropped through the first round of the NFL draft in May before he was taken 22nd overall by the Browns. His propensity to hit a party or two was well chronicled throughout the offseason. Now it’s about whether he can prevail in a competition with Brian Hoyer to be the Browns’ starter. Hoyer is scheduled to start today, and Manziel is set to play in relief.
“I think it’ll be fun,” Manziel said at a news conference this week. “It’ll be fun to mix it back up. This will be the first game setting since my last college bowl game. So it’ll be nice to get back on the field and play a game. Everybody’s happy when the season rolls back around. You’re out on the field actually having a live game going on.”
New Browns Coach Mike Pettine said this week it’s doubtful Manziel will take any snaps with the starters today. But he said neither quarterback was given a definitive number of snaps that he’ll play against the Lions.
“We’ve kept it pretty vague with them. … This game can go a lot of different ways, as you know,” Pettine said at a news conference. “I didn’t want to give them exact specifics or exact counts. You never know what can happen early on. I told those guys I’d rather them be prepared to play more than they think they’re going to play than give them a number and then put them over.”